Column on What Irritates the Staists

What Irritates the Statists

Tibor R. Machan

Speculating about motives isn’t my cup of tea. I really don’t know why so many folks find it attractive to run other people’s lives, to dictate to them, to regiment or regulate them endlessly. Ultimately I suspect this deepest of the deeper of human flaws has to do with a failure, a serious omission, the absence of a sufficiently fulfilled life, something that is really up to each individual to achieve within his or her particular circumstance provided other people aren’t intruding and make it impossible for the individual.

Still, bit and pieces of reasons for wanting to always bothering others with one’s agenda—or as some statists now wish to call it, nudging people to behave well—do come to light now and then without some grand theory of human motivation. A tiny example of what I have in mind stares one in the face a good deal everywhere one encounters one’s fellow human beings. I am thinking of the enormous variety of accessories people display. Take just one of these such as their wristwatches.

Nearly everyone manages to find one of these that no one else is wearing, at least no one nearby—at the same party or office or doctor’s waiting room or, well, you get the point. I would say in most developed societies people have managed to find just the watch they want and doesn’t replicate their friends’ and colleagues’ watches.

And as I travel about, which I do a great deal, I run across watch stores and other places where watches can be purchased and these are normally filled to the rim with the most incredibly varied examples of the article, most of them quite attractive as far as I can tell, some, of course, a bit hideous and silly looking.

I am of course focusing here on something those who know Karl Marx’s criticism of the free market capitalist economic system are quite familiar with. It is also something soft Marxists, such as the late John Kenneth Galbraith, implicitly criticized about the system. Marx called it commodity fetishism and Galbraith, also a socialist of sorts, _lamented the phenomenon in light of how it distracts most of us from our far more important "public" goals, the ones that get neglected because we spend so much money on private goods. (For Galbraith it was one of the major failures of the free market, namely, that we are at liberty to focus on satisfying our private desires and thus "deprive" the public treasuries of our resources that would, by Galbraith’s and his cohorts’ account be much better spent on public goods like schools, roads, forests, monuments, welfare payments, subsidies, or whatever publicly minded folks would spend our resources on.

Now all this is very irritating to those who have in mind taking the resources from those of us who have ideas of our own concerning what they ought to be spent on and using it for what they deem to be of far greater public significance. Or so they would have us think about it all.

In fact, however, this public versus private purpose is a ruse. There are just very, very few bona fide public purposes for which some small portion of our wealth could be devoted—such as courthouses, police, stations, the military, and so forth. Everything else is private! Which is what most of our resources go to secure for us and, indeed, should do so! The idea that what a J. K. Galbraith or Karl Marx has designated as a public good is indeed that is completely off the wall. Virtually every benefit to be obtained by way of forking out our wealth is a private benefit, something that serve the interest of some human individual in a society—maybe many of them, sometimes many of them all at once, but all are private individuals and that includes Marx and Galbraith and all their pals who are so eager to confiscated everyone else’s resources for purposes they deem to be important. If they think these are important purposes, they ought to get up a collection and convinced their fellows to part with what is needed to obtain them. That includes environmentalists who are eager to confiscate the land of others to they can carry on with whatever environmentally friendly project them prefer!

But it is so much simpler to send out the police to collect these funds rather than to raise them by means of convincing us of the worth of these projects. When this isn’t accepted much by the citizenry, the statists are deeply miffed. Too bad but it isn’t their stuff to spend as they think proper.

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